Jessica Helfand | Essays

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman!

In it's first competition in nearly 160 years, the Canada Post announced last month that it is enlisting the public's help in designing a new stamp to raise awareness for mental health issues.

Mental health is a serious, underfunded and complex issue that deserves attention, and if a stamp can help, more power to the Canadians. But is this the best way to boost awareness? And if it is a good way, why not enlist the best designers in the country (Canada has it's share) to do so?

On the other hand, in an age in which civilians vote for everything from dancing to design, why shouldn't stamp design be at the core of public opinion?

While the American public has long been encouraged to contribute ideas — indeed, submitting thousands of unsolicited proposals for stamp subjects every year — the idea of volunteering a visual suggestion is, in the US at least, less common. Frankly, it is discouraged. Designing stamps is actually really, really hard. But to the degree that the world is moving steadily toward increased transparency in all things, why shouldn't design be a public exercise?

If nothing else, perhaps someone in Canada will find a way to challenge the bizarre media assumption that a balanced mental state is best represented by lots of frighteningly tranquil, smiling people running through meadows. Now that would be progress.

Comments [3]

Personally, when it comes to the design of public things I think the public should just back off. But where did you get that image above? I love it; I love the crazy line of insanity running through the Easter Island head. It's really nuts! Hahahaha! I laugh at my own joke! It's winter here now. Got any bacon?

Love from Canada.

[n.b. this may have lost something in the translation from the French]
Marian Bantjes

I'd have thought the answer was simple: employing designers costs. Public competition equals free.
Mark Cotter

as someone who suffers from mental health issues i think raising awareness is a great idea—but to me, using this childlike imagery just re-enforces the stereotypes that already exist about mental illness. does styron write in crayon? jackson pollock paint with finger paints (okay maybe that’s not a good analogy)?

"the difference between genius and insanity is that genius has its limits." —albert einstein

please let’s move away from this idea that people with mental illness are slow and childlike. we’re not.

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